Thursday, 30 August 2012

Good Natured Salads - a review and a recipe for Greek Salad

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When I was asked to review Good Natured salad products, my first thought was to test them out in a Greek salad, having recently come back from a holiday in Crete, where we enjoyed many Greek (or village) salads. Luckily we're big fans of salads in the Onykahonie household - I say luckily because some people think that's all us vegetarians eat! 

The Good Natured range consists of a variety of mainly UK produced salad crops, herbs, fruits and vegetables. What makes them different from other brands, is that they are free from pesticide residues, as they are grown using natural predators (ladybirds, not lions!) to see off the nasty crop-munching pests. This makes them slightly more expensive to buy than regular fruit and veg, but a similar price to organically-produced products.
The vine tomatoes and cucumber we tested looked pretty enough and tasted as good as any organic salad products we've eaten. I can't say that I would be prepared to pay the extra for them (having stopped receiving an organic box for cost reasons), but I would certainly prefer to see wide-spread use of this method of horticulture to help decrease both the price of pesticide-free fruit and vegetables and the use of pesticides in the UK. There is more information about the way Good Natured products are grown here
Find Good Natured products in larger ASDA stores. Look out for the labelled products in green boxes.

Greek salad

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  • 1 small lettuce, washed and shredded
  • ½ cucumber, cut in half and sliced
  • 2 large vine tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 green pepper, sliced thinly
  • ½ small onion, sliced thinly
  • a handful of Greek olives
  • 125g Greek feta cheese, sliced thickly
  • dried oregano and olive oil to serve.
Place the lettuce at the bottom of a bowl. 
Scatter the remaining salad ingredients over. Top with the feta cheese and sprinkle of dried oregano. Drizzle a little olive oil over to serve.

Integrity Statement
I received a voucher towards the purchase price of Good Natured products. I was not required to write a positive review and the views expressed are genuinely those of myself and my family. 

Logo used with kind permission from Good Natured ©


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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My attempts at an 8 strand plaited loaf!


I'm getting a bit bored of a certain well-known competitive cooking show, as it's becoming too competitive, too 'professional' and far too pretentious for my liking (honestly, who really cooks anything in a sous vide?). But, I'm loving this series of the Great British Bake Off, as it has kept its gentle tweeness, thanks mainly I think to the well-chosen and generally pleasant range of contestants, the knowledgeable (but not patronising) experts Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry and to the lovely Mel and Sue, who co-present the programme.

So far, in this series, I've been inspired to have a go at baking the rather tricky looking 8 strand plaited loaf. Before this, I'd only ever attempted a rather pedestrian 3 stranded plait. The instructions for plaiting the dough were a bit confusing at first, but once I understood what they meant, my plait started to grow and actually looked quite like the ones on the programme!

With my first attempt (above), I followed the GBBO recipe to the letter, despite having reservations about the amount of yeast used (I would usually only use one sachet for that amount of flour). I think this resulted in the bread over-proving, as the resulting loaf was flatter than I expected, had quite a close texture and wasn't particularly tasty.

My second attempt (left) was with my tried and tested challah recipe. As this dough is softer than a plain bread dough, it was slightly more difficult to plait and the resulting loaf wasn't quite as neat as my first attempt. It did, hower, taste better!

I've entered this post on this month's Fresh from the Oven linky over on Fuss Free Flavours (started by Claire at Purely Food and Michelle at Utterly Scrummy) .
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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Cocoa Boutique Chocolates - a review

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I may have mentioned before that I love good quality chocolates, so when I received an introductory box of Cocoa Boutique chocolates to review, I was very excited. I was also amazed at how quickly Miss Ony and Miss Kahonie somehow managed to sniff them out almost as soon as they dropped through the letter box!

The packaging was well presented, robust and letter-box friendly, and I was impressed that all the chocolates were intact and in place when I opened up the box, which consisted of a range of luxury milk, white and dark chocolates, including truffles, pralines and buttons; The chocolates looked beautiful...some were real works of art and they smelt amazing.


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I liked the detailed leaflet which accompanied the chocolates with details of the chocolatiers who had developed or made each chocolate, a score card, tasting notes and chocolate lingo which we used these during our taste test. Each chocolate was also described in detail and marked with its suitability for vegetarians (only one in this box wasn't) and whether they contained alcohol.

Our favourite chocolate over all (as a family) was the Ecuador 70% dark chocolate buttons, which had a delicious balance between an intense bitter cocoa hit and a subtle sweetness. My favourite was the dark chocolate brandy truffle and Mr O's chocolate of choice was the milk chocolate almond praline. My only criticism of this collection was that I would have preferred far more emphasis placed on high quality dark chocolates (and I would have been happy with no white chocolates at all, as I don't consider white chocolate to be real chocolate!).


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How does the Cocoa Boutique work? The initial introductory box of chocolates which I received initially retailed at £34.95, but is now on offer for just £9.95 (which I think is is a really good deal). After receiving this, if you decide to subscribe to the Cocoa Boutique tasting club, you can then opt to receive further boxes every month, bi-monthly, quarterly or even every six months at a cost of £19.95 per box including delivery. You can cancel at any time, and if you're not completely happy, you can opt for the full money-back guarantee.

While I love the thought of a box of quality chocolates popping through my letter box every month or two, the price would put me off somewhat. However a years membership would make a lovely gift, which I'm sure would be appreciated by most people.

Integrity Statement
I received a free introductory box of chocolates to review from Cocoa Boutique. I was not required to write a positive review and the views expressed are genuinely those of myself and my family. 

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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Beautiful Days Festival 2012 - A review

The law of averages should have meant that our third festival of the year was a dry one, having been to two wet and muddy festvals earlier in the year, but no; when we arrived at the rural Devon campsite for our first Beautiful Days festival it was peeing down with precipitation.

We parked the car, loaded up the trolley and then headed on down the hill to the family camping areas. We settled on a spot away from the main paths (which turned out to be a good idea as the paths soon turned into muddy canals!), but fairly near a set of portaloos and a water tap. Once the tent was pitched, we cracked open a beer (and a couple of cans of Coke for the girls), sat in the tent and hoped it would stop raining; it did briefly, giving me just enough time to cook up some veggie burgers for tea, but then started again and continued for the rest of the night...


Friday was the first proper day of the festival and after waking up and finding the tent had leaked in the night (oh the joys of camping!), I cooked breakfast in the rain. We then headed off through the by now rather squelchy campsite, to see the Levellers kick off with an amazing acoustic set in the very packed Big Top. We explored the rest of the festival site in the afternoon and were impressed by the number of food and craft stalls. There were plenty of veggie and vegan options, although the food was a little pricey, as festival food always is. There was also a 'general store' which sold basic foods like bread, juice, milk, cheese and eggs at a reasonable price. 


We weren't quite as impressed with the number of portaloos available which often meant a good 15 minute or so wait, followed by a treacherous amble through the quagmire that surrounded each line of toilets...not so easy to navigate for those with young children (or after a couple of drinks!)


The kids' area ©
The festival won the best family festival award last year and I could see why; as well as family-friendly entertainment each morning in the theatre tent, the designated kids' areas looked great, with everything from fairground rides and craft activities to theatre and music workshops, but the girls felt too old for the kids' activities (accompanied by us) and too young for the teenagers' tent (where understandably, no parents were allowed!). Instead we all stayed together and watched various other acts that day, including a couple of lesser known bands at the small and intimate Bimble Inn and ending up with a fantastic set by Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls back on the Main Stage.

By Saturday the weather had started to pick up, but the ground underfoot was beyond redemption even inside the marquees (thank goodness I packed the wellies and waterproof picnic mat!). Luckily The Bar-Steward Sons Of Val Doonican were our first stop at the Band Stand and they soon made us forget about the mud with their humorous renditions of familiar songs with alternative lyrics...Waterloo Portaloo particularly made us laugh, especially when the portaloo cleaning crew turned up to empty the adjacent toilets halfway through the song!


Next stop was the Big Top to watch The Jam Tarts Choir (singing choral versions of indie/rock songs), which was a refreshing change from the usual festival acts and went down well with the crowd. Later on, we only caught a few Billy Bragg songs, despite me being a fan since the 80's, as by the time he came on the weather had picked up and the sun was shining. Unfortunately this had the effect of turning the Big Top into a sauna with the evaporating moisture from all the mud! Instead, we found a nice spot up on the bank in the main arena and settled down to watch the remaining acts on the Main Stage, which included Bellowhead, New Model Army and PIL.


Sunday started with another grey morning, but soon brightened up both weather-wise and visually with the colourful selection of festival goers' heart-themed attire (the dressing-up theme for Sunday was hearts, if you hadn't guessed); we felt slightly under dressed in our shop-bought, heart emblazoned T-Shirts, as some of the other outfits were real works of art.


After seeing a couple of acts at the Band Stand, we watched the hilarious Le Navet Bete's  - Napoleon A Defence in the theatre tent. We then headed to find our usual spot in the main arena, which was already getting pretty full. The girls and I hit the shops while Mr O soaked up the ambience and a pint of cider. 
We all watched the last acts on the Main Stage together, which included Alabama 3, Waterboys and of course the Levellers once again with a rousing firework finale.

So did we have a beautiful time at Beautiful 
Days? Yes!
Part of the family camping area ©
Overall, we were really impressed with the organisation and layout of the festival, the wide range of acts and the general family-friendly, laid-back atmosphere. My only criticisms were that there weren't enough toilets,the showers were a long way from the family camping area, and that a few more contingencies could have been made for the expected mud, especially around the portaloos and main pathways, such as boarding or extra bark chippings etc to soak up some of the moisture. I have since heard about instances of  'youths' up to nocturnal mischief and mayhem in some of the other camping areas, but luckily we didn't witness this first hand and were actually impressed with the behaviour of the vast majority of fellow festival-goers.

You can read my festival guide with meal ideas here.
Visit Festival Kidz for more family-friendly festival reviews, tips and info.

Integrity Statement
I paid for the tickets to Beautiful Days myself and was not asked to write a positive review. The views expressed are my own and those of my family.

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Monday, 13 August 2012

Black Forest Muffins (with a vegan option)

Baking Mad asked if I would like to test out another one of their recipes, this time using Silver Spoon Homegrown sugar, which is the ONLY sugar grown in Britain. As I already buy Silver Spoon products, I was happy to oblige.
"Silver Spoon sugars are made from sugar beet . The sugar beet that goes into Silver Spoon sugars travels a short distance to the factory (an average of only 28 miles) direct from the fields around Bury St Edmunds in East Anglia. Silver Spoon work with 1,200 local farmers to grown the beet, which is then made into their range of homegrown sugars for families all over the country."   The first 10,000 people to register with Baking Mad before 30th September 2012 will receive a free Silver Spoon mystery gift (UK only).  
I decided to go for the rather indulgent looking Black Forest Muffins, as cherries are cheap and plentiful in the UK at the moment. These are quite time consuming to make (compared to simple muffins), with the cherry pitting and soaking, but worth the effort for a special dessert. I cooked two batches - one non-vegan and one vegan - as I didn't want my lovely vegan readers to miss out on these (the vegan variations are in italics). Of course, that meant a lot of muffins to eat, but my family bravely stepped up to the mark and helped out!

For the muffins:
  • 450 g fresh cherries pitted and halved
  • 2-4 tbsp kirsch, white rum or cherry brandy
  • 150 ml water
  • 110 g dark chocolate chips (Silver Spoon Create) - v.o dairy free chocolate
  • 225 g unsalted butter, softened v.o dairy free spread
  • 175 g caster sugar (Silver Spoon Homegrown)
  • 3 free range eggs - v.o option Orgran No Egg or similar egg replacer
  • 400 g plain flour 
  • 50 g cocoa powder
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 140 ml sour cream - v.o dairy free vanilla or plain yogurt
For the topping:
  • 400 ml double cream
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar (Silver Spoon Homegrown)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Vegan topping:
  • 200g icing sugar (Silver Spoon Homegrown)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Boiled water to mix
Plus:
  • 12 cherries to decorate
  • Chocolate shavings or chocolate chips, to decorate - v.o dairy free chocolate
Method
Combine cherry halves with the kirsch, cover and set aside over night or for at least 2 hours. 

Heat the oven to 180°C/170 °C Fan Oven/350°F/gas 4.

Place paper cases in a 16 hole muffin tin.

In a small pan, over a low heat combine the water and chocolate chips. Heat, stirring frequently until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.


(For the vegan option, at this stage cream the 
sugar and dairy free spread, then add the remaining muffin ingredients including egg-replacer and mix until just combined. Then continue as for regular muffins.)

In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the cooled chocolate, scraping the sides of the pan and mix thoroughly.


Mix together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture in batches, alternating with the soured cream, mixing on low speed to incorporate.


Spoon half of the mixture into the paper cases, add a spoonful of cherries - about 6 halves - (reserving the liquid) and top with the remaining cake mixture, so that the paper cases are filled to the top. 


Bake for 25-30 minutes, until firm to the touch. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes; turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.


Using a skewer or cocktail stick, poke several holes in the top of the muffins. Drizzle or brush the reserved cherry liquid over the top of the muffins and allow to soak in.


Toppings

For the whipped cream: whisk the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and whisk until incorporated. Place a spoonful of whipped cream on top of each cupcake. 
For the vegan topping: Mix the icing sugar with the vanilla and just enough water to make a thick, but spreadable icing.
Decorate with fresh cherries and shaved chocolate. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


The Verdict
Not bad at all! The vegan muffins were a pretty good match for the non-vegan ones both in appearance and taste. In my photos above, you can see the slightly more bumpy-looking vegan muffins in the plain cake cakes and the non-vegan ones in the patterned cases.I found that both batches were a little drier than expected though, so I've reduced the amount of flour in the recipe above (compared to the original recipe from Baking Mad). I also felt that the original mixture didn't look dark/chocolaty enough, so I also added some cocoa powder. When I bake these again, I'll  mix the cherries and kirsch into the batter so they're distributed through the cakes rather than in one layer in the middle, as I think this will improve the taste and moistness of the cakes.

Integrity Statement
This is a sponsored post. I received free cooking ingredients (sugar, flour, chocolate chips and vanilla extract) in return for mentioning Silver Spoon Homegrown Sugar and Baking Mad. Original recipe courtesy of Baking Mad.

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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Challah

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I make quite a lot of bread using my bread machine, but I haven't got round to blogging many of my recipes, mainly because home made bread tends to get eaten pretty well straight away in my house! Anyway, Jacqueline from Tinned Tomatoes got me inspired to do some baking blogging after reading about a bread making class she went to...

This recipe is for challah, which is a soft and slightly sweet bread and is great for breakfast. I remember that I used to love eating it as a child, although we used to call it poppy seed bread. I didn't learn its real name or know that it was a Jewish celebration bread, until I found a recipe for it after investing in a bread maker a few years ago. 

Challah is quite expensive to buy in the shops, so making your own is much cheaper and tastes just as good. 
My recipe is a simplified one, which I make using the dough setting on my bread machine.
  • 4 cups strong white bread flour
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp honey or golden syrup
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 1 sachet fast action dried yeast
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds
Beat the eggs and then reserve about 1 tbsp for the glaze. Place the eggs in a measuring cup and top up to the 1 cup mark with cold water. Add to the bread pan and then add a further ⅓ cup of water (to make 1⅓ cups of liquid in total).

Add the remaining ingredients, except the poppy seeds, to the pan.
Set the bread maker on its 'dough' setting and allow to run. 
If the dough feels sticky at the end of the programme, add a little more flour and kneed it in.

Divide the dough into 3, 4 or 5 pieces (depending on how good your plaiting skills are!) and roll into long thin sausage shapes. Try not to use any extra flour at this stage as this will stop the braided dough sticking together.


Press one end of each piece of dough together and then start to plait them. Once you've finished plaiting, press all the other end pieces together.

Place onto a well greased baking tray and tuck both ends under the loaf slightly to stop them unravelling.

Cover loosely with a clean tea towel or some cling film and allow to rise in a warm place for around 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 190C/180C Fan/375F/Gas5.

Glaze the loaf with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with the poppy seeds.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until it's golden brown and sounds hollow if you tap on the base.

Suitable for freezing.

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Saturday, 4 August 2012

Reggae Reggae Chickpeas (Vegan)

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This is a recipe for a kind of spicy version of baked beans, using the original Reggae Reggae Sauce (as I had an opened bottle which needed using up!). Although I used chickpeas, this would work well with other pulses too.

Serves 4
  • 1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red onion, diced finely 
  • 4 tbsp tomato purée
  • 4 tbsp Reggae Reggae Sauce
  • 125ml/½ cup boiling water or hot vegetable stock
  • ½ tsp dried or 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • around 450g/1 lb chopped, or sliced seasonal vegetables (e.g. bell pepper, courgette, sweet corn, carrot, etc)
  • 1-2 tsp mild chilli powder
Gently fry the onion in a little oil until softened.
Stir in the tomato purée, Reggae Reggae sauce and thyme and cook for a further minute.
Add the chickpeas and water and stir.
Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened up. 

Meanwhile, roast or fry some chopped seasonal vegetables, with 1 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with the mild chilli powder.

Serve the chickpeas and vegetables with rice or in wraps.


Alternatives:
If you can't find Reggae Reggae sauce, use a spicy jerk or barbecue sauce instead.
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